religion

03
Feb

Betrayal of the intellect

Last night, at the Cambridge Union debating society, Professor Richard Dawkins debated the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The image here comes from a story on the Huffington Post where Dawkins is quoted as saying that religion is a "betrayal of the intellect". When I referred to this story on Google+, someone replied to my post by saying the trouble with Richard Dawkins is that he is a "rabid, fundamentalist, atheist" and as deluded at the former Archbishop. He further suggested that neither science nor religion will ever settle this issue.  

Here's my take . . . whether or not some deity or other exists, I can say with near absolute certainty that it's not the god of the Bible, Talmud, Torah, Koran, or any of the books that are paraded as God's word on this planet. Furthermore, the evidence suggests, with near absolute certainty, that there is no god, at least not in the way that most religious people envision such a being.

27
Jan

Today's Bible Quote Examined : Kings 2:23-25

If you've every wondered whether God and his prophets have a sense of humour, wonder no further. Harken to the word . . . 

23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.

Apparently, having your bald head insulted was too much for Elisha who was on his way from Jericho to Bethel. He calls on God to do his worse and God puts on quite a show indeed.

23
Jan

Jesus and the Parable of "The Good Samaritan"

The parable of the "the Good Samaritan" was always one of those stories that stuck out as being 'wrong', precisely because it sounded like a racist slur or stereotyping a country and its people. You know what I'm talking about. The cheap Jew. The drunk Irishman. Here in Canada, we used to have stupid Newfie jokes.

In that way, the parable of the Good Samaritan is much like telling the story of the Sober Irishman, which is worth mentioning only because, well . . . can you really imagine a sober Irishman? How about the story of the rich Jew who gives a lot to charity?

Or the Newfie with a Ph. D.? Seriously . . . We could come up with something totally unbelievable, like a Newfie doctor who invents a life-saving device or does something important! Let's include that one in the next edition of the Bible, shall we?

13
Jan

Calling BS on Mother Theresa

Penn and Teller, with a little help from Christopher Hitchens, show us how you can take a culture of pain, misery, poverty, and suffering, and make it sound so good, you reward it with sainthood.

It's amazing to think that a person like Mother Theresa can be seen as a force for good. Sort of like making pedophile priest sound like a force for good. Of Islamists beheading people in god's name sound like a good thing. The latter is relatively fast and brutal, the former takes time and stretches the suffering out over many years.

Which do you like best?

Plaque on the exterior wall of École Polytechnique commemorating the victims of the massacre. Memorial plate on the side of École Polytechnique. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.On December 6, 1989, Marc Lepine, age 25, walked into l'École Polytechnique in Montreal, entered a classroom and separated the men from the women. Then he started killing people. When he was done, 14 women were dead with another 10 injured. Only four men suffered injuries. The names of those fourteen women are inscribed on a plaque outside l'École Polytechnique de Montréal (click on the image to see a larger version and read teh names.) Lepine wasn't gunning for the men. He told the people around him that he was 'fighting feminism'. Lepine was clearly insane, but his madness was an extreme reflection of much of society's views on women and sex. It wasn't a one-off and unless we are willing to leave the dark ages behind, it will happen again and again.

Enlightened society claims to value women and to care about their rights; that a female child is just as valuable as a male child. If this is true, and we are ready to leave the dark ages behind, then what are you willing to give up in order to make that happen?

Hatred of women has its roots in the way we educate our children. It seems innocent at first, but the message that women aren't as good as men, that boys are better than girls, goes on to be reinforced throughout life in churches around the country and the world. Religious tradition is rife with it's oppressive obsession with the bodies of women. Enshrined in the scriptures are the justfications for keeping women silent and subservient to men, for rape, for witch burnings, for forced marriages, for honour killings, and the vilitfication and disgust that surrounds the female birth canal in so many cultures even today.  On one hand, we talk of the evils of rape, but Scripture makes it clear that it was the woman who tempted Adam with her femine wiles. Her first crime, of course, is the result of her vanity and weakness of character (courtesy of her creator) which causes her to listen to the serpent and break God's commandment in the garden. Right at the very beginning, the stage is set for women to take the blame for all the ills that follow.

Religion is the spectre of the Dark Ages, a ghost that continues to haunt us into the present. The Dark Ages are the inevitable consequence of what happens when religion has its way and decides our fate. To move forward is to bury that cast out that spectre once and for all. We, as a society, need to look at our holy books, accept that much of it is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense. We need to innoculate our children against its pathological effects so that another Marc Lapine does not grow up thinking that his female companions are less than equal, somehow dirty because of their sexuality, and therefore worthy of contempt and hate.

Before you cast your first stone at me, let me fully admit that not all religious people, or religions, treat women with equal contempt. Not now, in 2012. Women have made great strides in our society and our modern churches, at least here in the West, would not allow or condone the kinds of violence that Lapine was guilty of. Nevertheless, religion is largely responsible for keeping these ideas alive; the recent U.S. presidential election gave us plenty of examples of men explaining how this or that wasn't really rape, or how God really expected women to behave, or how religion should have the say (not just 'a' say) in women's reproductive choices. Western religions can pat themselves on the back all they want, but their constant obsession with women and sex keeps the cycle of violence going. Worse, it provides an excuse for those who would continue the cycle of violence.

Religion is not the reason for our somewhat more englightened age. The rejection of religious doctrine is. If the church, whatever church you like, has become more enlightened, it is because it has been dragged kicking and screaming into the light. There, faced with the brightness of reason, is has given in to some of our demands. But religion is nocturnal and it yearns for the safety of the darkness, where it can hunt unseen.

And so I close by asking once more. What are you willing to give up so that the events of December 6, 1989 do not repeat themselves again and again?

28
Nov

My Personal War On Christmas

December is just around the corner and the the annual rhetoric around the holiday season is starting to heats up. Yes folks, it's the whole "War on Christmas" thing. Particularly popular with the FOX News crowd, insecure Christians of every stripe manage to get a little hot under the collar at the very idea that this season might be about anything but Christmas. If you hang out on any of the social networking sites like Facebook, you've already seen friends post things like this.

"It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas! Hit Like and Share if you agree."  Or perhaps you've seen this one: "I'm keeping Christ in Christmas and putting up a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree" (as though a Christmas tree has anything to do with keeping Christ in Christmas) and a million variations on the theme. In short, well meaning fans of the Christmas holiday season are worried that there's a war going on, a war that can only end when Christmas has been cancelled. For good.

As a raving atheist and obnoxious anti-theist , it's time for me to come clean on my own views regarding the holiday seasons. But first a little history. 

Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in the guy or not, that's really the idea behind Christmas. That's what the manger, baby Jesus, and a whole whack of Christmas carols are all about. That said, putting Christmas on December 25th has less to do with Christ and more with trying to make Christianity palatable to Pagans in the early Christian years. Few people had a clue as to when, exactly, Jesus was born and it wasn't until sometime around the fourth century that the Church pegged December 25th as the big day. Since countless cultures on the planet have historically held some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, it made sense to use this time of year to slide Christmas into the calendar. The Romans already had a big thing going with Saturnalia and it already landed around the week of December 25th, so it was perfect timing.

The solstice is why so many religions have a holiday in and around the end of December. In less enlightened days, we saw the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the temperature get colder. It was scary stuff. But when the solstice was upon us, we knew that the days would start to get longer, the nights shorter, and the season warmer (at least in the northern hemisphere). People who had been feeling depressed suddenly got happier. They threw big parties with elaborate feasts and they filled their world with light. Fire and light. People were doing the winter holiday thing long before anyone had hear of Jesus and the little drummer boy. It was the solstice. Time to party.

Now I love a good solstice celebration as much as the next guy. Come to think of it, I love a good solstice celebration better than a lot of guys I've met. 

I have no trouble with the holiday being called "Christmas" and yes, at my non-believing house, we put up a "Christmas tree" and sing "Christmas carols". One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Oh Holy Night" and it doesn't get much more religious than that one; sung with conviction and a beautiful voice, the song can bring tears to my eyes. I love the giving and receiving of gifts and I love seeing my frends and family gathered together to enjoy an otherwise cold and unpleasant time of year. I say "Merry Christmas", kiss under missletoe, and send out Christmas cards, complete with our annual Christmas letter. I watch Christmas movies, both secular (e.g. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") and Christian (e.g. "A Chalie Brown Christmas"). I totally get into Christmas, but not because I'm a Christian. I gave that up a long time ago. I do it because it's Christmas and Christmas is fun for me. I've played Santa Claus and worn the red suit many a year.

I also say "Happy Holidays" and "Joyous Solstice" and "Happy Haukkah" as the situation presents itself. It's a happy time and I like to see people happy, especially when they are enjoying the happiness and company of others. When it's Christmas, it's Christmas and when it's Hanukkah, it's Hanukkah. Ditto for all the other calendar-entrenched holidays. It's the solstice and every culture since the dawn of time has had some kind of celebration around the shortest day of the year. Deal with it.

So that's my war on Christmas. Getting people to see that it's okay to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Hanukkah", and "Happy Holidays", or whatever feels right to you when you're greeting others with warmth and friendship, and stop being so damned hung up on the whole thing. Take a holiday pill people and get into the spirit. It's the solstice and it's time to party. Have your fun and make sure you let others have theirs too.

02
Nov

Slavery in the Bible

Boulanger Gustave Clarence Rudolphe The Slave Market

Chrstians, as I've said more than once, are largely hypocrites, and I consider this an exceptionally good thing. Those people who would hold the Bible up as the perfect word of God and ask us to consider each word and paragraph as divine Truth are preaching a scary doctrine indeed. The Bible is a collection of highly questionable accounts with some real historical significance but only occasional accuracy. Put another way, it's a collection of fairy tales with as much truth buried in the pages as does Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass". Accepting that the Bible isn't the absolute word of God is hard for some, but it's the truth. My religious friends and family selective pick and choose from the Bible all the time, accepting some passages and rejecting others. In other words, they don't truly believe that it is the unnerring word of God. They are, at best, agnostics. They are leaning over the edge looking down into atheism. And so, from time to time, I like to remind them of their selective belief in the so-called "Good Book".

Most people today think that slavery is a bad idea and few would suggest that we should take our Negro brothers and sisters, shackle them, and sell them in the public square. Of course, if we all followed the word of God as outlined in the Bible, we'd still have slavery, and we would support it because God, through the perfect word of the Bible, says it's okay.

Slaves are pretty cool in the bible -- you could pass them and their families to your children as wedding gifts and the like. As in Leviticus 25:44-46:

30
Oct

Happy Halloween! An Excuse To Party!

Feeling a little on edge? Like someone is looking over your shoulder? Do you hear a creaking sound in an otherwise silent room? Wait! Was there something moving in the shadows? You could swear you just just heard a low kind of moaning sound, as though the saddest, loneliest creature in the universe were writing in solitary pain. 

Buck up! It's Halloween!

The day after Halloween was once considered one of Christianity's holiest of days. Enshrined as "All Saints Day" by Pope Boniface IV, the holiday, like many Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas), borrows from earlier Pagan religions. This rite of the church was actually a two day thing, with a prepatory celebration knows as "All Hallows Eve". As such, Halloween was one of the holiest nights of the year, making way to All Saints Day. It's sort of like Christmas Eve and Christmas. The following day,  November 2nd, became All Souls Day, to honor those who hadn't quite made it to sainthood. Since the focus of these days is about the dead rather than the various eternal beings (God, Jesus, angels, etc), you get where this whole Haloween death thing comes from.

All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day is borrowed from the pagan feast of Samhain and comes to us courtesy of the ancient Celts. Samhain is the Gaelic harvest festival. The fields have been harvested, things are starting to look a little dead, and winter is coming. The harvest is cause for celebration but winter, if you don't have central heating (as with the ancients Celts), isn't all that exciting. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the prospect of some serious downer days.

They threw a party. 

The days got shorter and the air got colder and finally, the solstice (which later became the ispiration for Christmas) arrived. The shortest day of the year. So the ancients did what most people do when faced with the darkest gloomiest day of the year prior to it getting brighter and (eventually) warmer. 

They threw a party.

As you can see, whenever people are faced with momentous events, in and out of their control, they throw a party. And now, it's Halloween. Or Samhain. Or All Hallows Eve. Take your pick. Either way, it's a great excuse for a party if, as Vincent Price observed in Michael Jackson's "Thriller", you've got the "soul for getting down".

Happy Haloween!

24
Oct

Jesus Is Alive - So Is Elvis

Meanwhile, near Peterborough, Ontario, a battle rages for the hearts and minds of drivers making their way down the roadways. 

One man, deeply devoted to Jesus, decides to make it clear by using his own house as a billboard.

In case you can't read the words on the roof, let't take a look at a close-up (you could also just click on the image).

His next door neighbour might be just as passionate about another man made god, the King of rock and roll himself, the immortal Elvis Presley. Of course, he may just be annoyed at his neighbour's billboard and chose to respond with a billboard of his own. Check it out.

If you're having trouble reading the rooftop on that one, look at the closeup below or, once again, just click on the image for a full sized view.

So? King of rock and roll or King of kings? Are either really alive and living in Spokane where they work at a local greasy spoon serving up burgers and fries?

Myself, I take a more pragmatic view of the whole debate. It seems to be that Elvis is just as alive as Jesus. Maybe just a little more so but only because he hasn't been dead quite as long as Jesus.

16
Oct

Praying For Peace In Winnipeg

Image from Radio Canada article here http://www.radio-canada.ca/regions/manitoba/2012/10/04/002-winnipeg-chef-police.shtml

I'm trying to decide just how much fun I want to poke at this guy. 

On one hand, Devon Clunis has an unenviable job, one I certainly never want. While Winnipeg is a quiet rural town when compared to comparable US cities when it comes to crime, tackling crime in Canada's murder capital is a hard job by anyone's reckoning. 

Unfortunately, I must temporarily suspend my respect for the person willing to take on this kind of job because Devon Clunis needs to sit down and think seriously about what policing involves and how best to deal with crime. Winnipeg's new police chief has apparently decided that the way to reduce crime is to get everyone to pray.

Yes, pray.

"I'm a little tired of us…being '[the] murder capital of Canada,'" says Devon Clunis, who was appointed chief of police at the beginning of October. "People consistently say, 'How are you going to solve that?' It's not simply going to be because we're going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that."

"What would happen if we all just truly—I'm talking about all religious stripes here—started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?" he adds. "I believe something phenomenal is going to happen in our city. I truly believe it's coming. I don't think I've arrived at this position just by chance."

What bothers me so much about this is what bothers me about prayer in general. It's a way to make yourself feel like you're helping when, in fact, you are doing absolutely nothing at all. Why work hard to solve the world's problems when you can pray them away? Besides, your god is coming back some time real soon now and this life is just something you do while waiting for eternal life and paradise. 

Praying for peace, or health, or anything else good for that matter is not only nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense. It renders you impotent and powerless and keeps you from actually doing something.

In a landmark (2006; Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer), which involved six major hospitals, the results showed that prayer had no effect on the outcome of surgery. Worse still, if the patient knew that people were praying for them, they actually got worse than those who simply had no idea they were being  prayed for. So if anything, prayer is harmful, particularly if you know people are praying for you.

Are you paying attention, Devon?

When it comes to murder, the more religious a country, the higher the murder rate. In the US, since I compared their murder rate to Canada's, the most religious of states have the highest murder rates while the least religious have the lowest. This holds true all over the world (see "Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being" by Phil Zuckerman, PhD). To the believers out there, this must sound totally bogus but study after study proves it. The same is true of teen pregnancy rates. Check out this report from Reproductive Health which demonstrates a direct corelation between how religious a state is and the incidence of teen pregnancy. Abstinence and God are lousy methods of birth control. Sex education, on the other hand, works wonders. That's because religion's greatest contributions to the human condition continue to be ignorance, intolerance, and fear.

I'm sure Devon Clunis is a good man and a dedicated officer, but in his quest to help the residents of Winnipeg, he is looking for help in the wrong place.

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